Friday, February 29, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 21: Sleep

I definitely felt that it was Friday today. I was up late last night due to the water heater issues, up early to drive a friend to the airport, and then working long while waiting for Mitch and George to arrive at bus depot. By the end of the work day, I could feel how my brain wasn’t firing near as fast or well. Even though I was able to program without any operational issues, work wasn’t fun. Talking with Kara on the phone, I was short and crabby. I had hid the wall, and needed a nap before taking in tonight’s festivities with Mitch and George.

While drifting to sleep in the parked Volvo, I started thinking about Jesus and tiredness. Gospel writer’s don’t record him talking about the subject much. There’s the great story of Jesus falling asleep at the front of the boat despite some rough seas. Clearly Jesus got tired and slept. But I wonder if tiredness wasn’t as big of a deal in their electricity-less culture. When night-time hit, there wouldn’t have been a whole lot to do. No computers or television. While possible, walking around wouldn’t have been pleasant. There’s only so much you’ll do before candle-light. So, I suppose it’s valid to assume that sleep was more regular and plentiful in their day-to-day lives. Consequently, sleep would have had to have been more present, and thus unnecessary to talk about.

One particularly interesting situation with Jesus and sleep is in the garden on the night he was betrayed. Jesus is on his knees praying through the night, and a few times comes back to check on the disciples, only to find them sleeping. You can read the story here. What sticks out to me is when Jesus says “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." Jesus’ words are incredibly practical for those of us caught in a sleep-deprived culture. Jesus acknowledges that out inner self may want to persevere, but is tied with a body that has weakness. As a result, Jesus says to watch out and pray so that we don’t fall victim to the body’s weakness. It’s not 100% clear what temptation Jesus is speaking to. The surrounding context would be the temptation of denying Christ to save oneself ridicule or punishment. There’s the temptation to selfishly look after one’s own need (in this case being tired), despite being asked by a treasured friend and mentor to keep watch while he is distressed to the point of death. Jesus is pointing out a weakness so that we can work around it, not be bit by it. To not be owned, Jesus directs us to watch and pray. Watching and praying are really one continuous action. Applying this to sleep, notice your condition, be in communication with God about it. This sets us up to know when we need to say no so we can rest and whether we need to be extra mindful of depending God to get us over the hump of a present challenge (like the disciples needed in the garden).

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 20: Learning

One of the first things I do when I get into the office is read my work/technical related RSS feeds. One feed I quickly breeze over to get a higher-level beat on what’s going on in the tech community is Slashdot. There was an article this morning about correcting misconceptions about evolution. In the Slashdot blurb, was this line:
“Everyone is a lifelong learner, but once people leave school, that learning becomes a voluntary matter that's largely driven by individual taste.”
Pretty soon afterwards, I got a call from Ryan Thomas, our great friend and excellent tenant downstairs that water was leaking in the closet from up above in our unit. Ouch, not good! He quickly got the water turned off, and I headed home from work to investigate things further. Today was a pretty stressful day, but in the midst of the cleanup and head scratching, I really enjoyed learning about water heaters and understanding how they worked.

Thinking back on it, learning happens all around me. While talking with my Mom in preparation for Mitch and George spending the weekend with us (yay!), she was telling me about all the technique learning she is undergoing in both biking and swimming as she prepares for her first triathlon. Growing up in Newfoundland wasn’t the most conducive to learning to swim. She’s learning now. Good stuff. I learned about coops and how they can benefit the poor. I learned about landscape architects and what the title means. I learned about drying out drywall. And this doesn’t include all the technical components I learn for work. Learning is usually driven out of necessity for me, but one thing I look very forward to in heaven is learning. Maybe learning out of necessity will occur there too, I don’t know, but I’m sure learning for the pleasure of it will be present. Just think, learning with people from all over the globe in a reality more alive and full than the one we currently know.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 19: Apologizing

How do you say sorry? Take this scenario:
Your wife is working at the computer on the desk. You have a desk that has storage compartments on the top. You store some things in these top cubbyholes. While attempting to open one, you fail to realize there’s a water bottle straddling the opening edge. While lifting open the cover, you tip the water bottle over. The lid was unfortunately not closed, and you get water all over the keyboard and the desk papers.
What do you do? Do you immediately say sorry? Or do you look at the system that caused or contributed to your to screw up? In my case, I can see how I tipped the water bottle. The computer obstructed my viewing of objects on the desk. From past experience, there haven’t been water bottles on the opening lid. And what’s the deal with leaving an open water bottle by electronics. So yes, I can apologize, but it’s a weak apology. It’s an apology with caveats. I don’t feel bad. My screwup was not intentional, and there were other elements like the lidless water bottle placement that enabled the situation to occur.

I know where I’m coming from when I apologize like this, but I know the apology received is hollow. The person on the other end is wondering, “is he really sorry?” This isn’t such a big deal in the water bottle scenario, but now let’s say you’ve hurt someone, your wife perhaps. You didn’t mean to, and while you were wrong, there are understandable reasons why you were wrong. If I say sorry, but then jump into qualifications, Kara really questions the apology. My qualifications are a way of defending myself. They put the focus back on me, and not on the person who was hurt.

The tough part for me is that I want my apologies to be authentic, but apologizing without considering the surrounding system/context doesn’t feel accurate, and thus not authentic for me. For Kara and I, my desire for accuracy and Kara’s desire for a heartfelt apology that shows understanding of her feelings can cause a gridlock. We both want to be understood. One of us has to give to loosen up the attention. Once the tension has diffused, both sides can get what they want.

It’s taken awhile, but I’m happy to say that I have gotten better at this. I can focus on the fact that I’ve hurt Kara, and for that I am sorry. I keep my communication to that. As she feels understood, I can begin to communicate my system understanding to her. In this pattern, she actually receives it, and now both parties are feeling good ☺

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 18: Born from Above

This passage always stops me in my tracks when I read it:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."

In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
I first just chuckle at the way Jesus isn't confined by people's questions. Usually, when someone asks me a question, I focus very hard on answering their direct request. Nicodemus says, "God's with you." Jesus implicity agrees by teaching about the Kingdom. He takes control of the conversation and drives it to a place not originally intended by Nicodemus. And then when Nicodemus starts getting baffled, Jesus continues further with this "born from above" stuff. What a stud.

What particularly stands out to me though is Jesus says, "You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'" At first glance (or even first glances) this statement baffles me. I would be in Nicodemus' shoes. There are two ways in which Nicodemus is surprised:
  1. That we have to be born again.
  2. How we are born again.
Jesus addresses both of these. First, God's Kingdom is the domain where God's reign rules. It's where his will is carried out from top to bottom. We know from experience that a human on its own is not equipped to live within a kingdom where God's rule is obeyed and rejoiced in. Some other life or person must form and develop within that person for the Kingdom of God to be an appropriate place to reside in. I believe this other life, is the life born of the Spirit that Jesus talks about.

Concerning how the rebirth happens, Jesus doesn't say a lot to Nicodemus other than it is by the Spirit. Jesus' word about the wind is supposed to be as comforting as it is teaching for Nicodemus. Jesus effectively says, "You may not know where the wind comes from or where it goes, but that doesn't diminish the reality of the wind. Same goes with rebirth. You may not know how it occurs, when it will occur, and what all it will do, but that doesn't mean it won't happen!"

So I'm curious how much people believe this. Do we actually think it occurs? Can people point in their lives and in the lives of others where this new life has sprung forward? Is it like the wind, where we may not have mastery over it, but we see signs of it appearing? Also like the wind, are there certain places we can go or things we can do to help us to experience the new birth from the Spirit? And how important is it that we're aware of this new life within us?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 17: Lover or Hireling?

This morning I was reading some excerpts from Theologia Germanica, and there was a line in particular that stood out to me: “For a love of God is better and more pleasing to God than a hundred thousand hirelings.” I’m not sure if this is true as I have not thought through all the implications of this statement, but while reading, I operated under the assumption that it was. It got me to look inside at my heart and search for love of God. I may seek to be obedient, but that doesn’t answer the question of whether I’m a hireling or one whose heart truly longs for God. Internally, I feel very tired. I move from one thing to the next, but less and less frequently do I feel alive. Life with God can feel like I’m clocking in each day, but it’s not out of love. This disturbs me. I really want to be someone who operates out of love. I want to get Christ when he says to abide in his love. At this point, I don’t know what I all I have to do to have my heart straightened out. At the very least, I must continue to wake each morning, surrender, and ask he who is able to go to work.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 16: What Happened Today?

I’m at the desk with a mile-high todo list, but I know I just need to take some time to rest and reflect given my day. I woke up, and due to an impending meeting, I bailed on my usual time to be quiet with God. Bad call. I quickly found myself being a jerk to Kara, too prideful to own up to my mistakes without contingencies. I learned more about the passing away of a family member, had a confrontational conversation with a construction worker, felt the weight of all the work to do in our backyard and basement, saw a disappointing last-home-game loss for the Huskies, got to play percussions with three skilled and enthusiastic guitar players for a church’s mission conference, received word from a friend that went missing in September who is now in jail, listened to a friend share about his wrestling’s with his career, his disbelief in the system he’s been apart of, and what his future holds. In days like these where I have been all over the place, I feel like there’s too much to really analyze and process within a manageable time period. I’m tired. Taking 15 minutes to stop and step out of task-mode is hard. It feels like I’m continuing a bread-first-search lifestyle, but sometimes that’s the best I can do.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 15: Stepping First

It's been basketball mania here for us. We were at the Sonics verses Blazers game tonight to see Brandon Roy. Tomorrow we'll be at the UW verses Arizona State game. While at these games, I have been watching fans when it comes to cheering or dancing. Usually, a group of people will look up and down the row at each other to see who is going to participate. Maybe you can relate with the shared hesitancy to be the first to act. As soon as one person starts though, the rest of the group begins to follow.

This reminded me of my favorite type of leadership: leading by example. I'm not particularly good at casting vision or recognizing and harnessing people's strengths, but I can step out and do something in my personal life when I know it's the right thing to do. It definitely helps to have other people to follow or do it with, but I'm not dependent on them. I can be the first person to stand up. When I make those decisions, I'm not conscious of the impact that my example may be having. It's a personal, me and God, decision. That others are spurred on is a bonus. Being reminded of the effect my life can have on others simply by the decisions I make is important. Decisions are one more thing that have to be looked at through the "good stewardship" lens. They can't be looked at from a me-only perspective.

I wonder how many times we have been placed in situations by God to act so that our actions will unlock others to find freedom in obedience. Certainly living balls to the wall includes obeying those small nudges to talk with someone on the bus, invite a difficult coworker out to lunch, to give up a pleasurable activity for the service of others. I exhort us all (myself included) to respond when we feel those small urges regardless of how silly they may feel. Our response may very well be affecting more than just ourselves.

Lent '08 - Day 14: Pleased By Dancing?

By going to Husky basketball games, one sees no shortage of pom squad or dance crew dances. Tonight’s great game against Arizona was no exception. I’ve always found these hard to watch. To appreciate something, I really have to focus in on it and absorb it. I admit my experience is relative, but these dances feel provocative in nature to me, so to study them with the goal of appreciating them is not healthy for the mind. As a result, I frequently just tune them out or may nominal attention at most.

Tonight, as the half-time dance show began, I started thinking about King Herod’s experience with dancers. Somehow, Herodias’ daughter (Herod’s brother’s wife’s daughter) pleased him so much that he made an oath to give her anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom. I tried to relate with Herod’s sentiment. I can’t recall ever being so pleased by something, that I would be will to give up have my possessions as a result. I know that seeing others dance has never struck that chord! I’m sure her dance must have been good, but it couldn’t have been that good. Certainly some other factors must have been at play (e.g. alcohol).

It’s natural to want to show appreciation or pay someone back who pleases us. There’s good ways of doing this, and bad ways. Herod’s open-ended offer certainly falls in the bad camp as it results in the heading of John the Baptist. The text reads that Herod was “greatly distressed” by the request for John’s head, but in the end he caved due to making a public oath before peers. I doubt that Herod honoring his oath in this case pleased God. His oath was made to another human (not to God like in Jephthah's case), so if any one should take the heat of his unwise words, it should have been him. Instead, following through with his oath caused Jesus to withdraw and mourn (Matthew 14:13). Ouch! How could wanting to show appreciation have such a poor outcome? I don’t know if this relates to everyday life much, but I certainly wouldn’t wish this one anyone.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 13: Being Famous

On 2/10, Kara and I went to the UW vs. UCLA basketball game. It was the best game of the season from my perspective. Every member of the team played well and we pulled out a nice upset.

Because it was a Sunday game with the #5 team in the country, there were some famous people in the crowd. Directly across from us was Kevin Durant of the Supersonics and a few seats down was Sean Alexander of the Seahawks. It was amazing to watch the response once people realized who were present. Kevin Durant had kids and adults backed up out into the lobby requesting autographs and/or cell phone pictures. Sean’s fate was similar. I remember thinking as a kid that autographs were cool, but that notion has long past. I felt sorry for them. It certainly an unwritten portion of those multi-million dollar contracts: the general public will flock to you, often interfering with you ability to enjoy.

Hearing the whispers in the crowd and seeing the lines grow reminded me of the similar fate that Jesus experienced. The word “crowd” shows up over 120 times in the gospels. Jesus was always dealing with them. He was a crowd magnet. Sometimes he taught them, sometimes he felt compassion for them, sometimes he asked them questions, sometimes he withdrew from them, sometimes he walked through him (literally), sometimes he judged them, sometimes he healed them, sometimes he fed them. Sometimes the crowd praised him, sometimes they were awed by him, sometimes they grumbled against him, sometimes they followed him, often times they brought the sick and demon possessed to him, sometimes they asked questions, sometimes they testified about him, sometimes they crushed him, one time they arrested him, and still another time they condemned him.

Jesus’ interactions with crowds truly are amazing. He knew how to engage with them, but also how not be controlled by them. His mission of creating disciples was still purposefully carried out. In fast, the crowds were sometimes the training crowds for his disciples’ training. Jesus’ interactions with the crowds help me picture him more clearly as well. It helps bring out his humanity. It makes sense when Jesus asks people he has healed not tell others about what he has done. Jesus is trying to keep some crowd control. In taking on human flesh, he bound himself by time and space such that more people actual inhibited him. This is just one more willing limitation Christ took on in his mission to reconcile us to God...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 12: Balls To The Wall

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Sun Peaks with my small group. Drew and John have a higher threshold for speed than I do and decided to race down Sting, a long, steep, and groomed run. At the bottom of the run, John said he'd gone "balls to the wall". I had never heard of the phrase before, but I got the message. He'd gone all out; few turns and a lot of pointing. When I got back, I looked up the history of the phrase, and found:

"Term used by pilots. When accelerating quickly, the throttle is pushed all the way to the panel and the throttle lever (ball) actually touches the panel (wall). Hence, balls to the wall." (source)

"The phrase is essentially the aeronautical equivalent of the automotive 'pedal to the metal.'" (source)

The phrase has rung through my head since. It paints a picture for me. The cool crisp air pelts my cheeks as I push faster down the hill. The skis are wobbly. A little lip can mean a lot of air. A thick snow clump could mean a major wipe out. Yes, balls to the wall, living on the edge, everything on the line, giving it all I've got.

Skiing balls to the wall on the slopes is great. Being given that description from others would be a real compliment. But how much more so if someone would look at my life and see me living balls to the wall for Christ. I'm challenged by this phrase; I haven't been living this way. I want God to push up the throttle. I want to be around people who have their throttle lever touching the panel. So how about you? Do you rally behind the phrase? Are you living it?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lent Blog Entries Posted

My family and I were up in Sun Peaks for the last few days skiing, and since I didn't have Internet access, I was typing up entries without posting them. The last 4 days have all been posted now though.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 11: Forgiveness = Freedom

I wasn't respectful last night and I needed forgiveness. I woke up in the middle of the night, and I atypically couldn't immediately go back to bed. I started replaying the scene in my mind, identifying what frustrated me,but also identifying how I mishandled that frustration. I prayed for an opportunity to reconcile, and sure enough, it came this morning. Initiating these types of conversations always takes me a bit. I have to work myself up to it. I know that if I can get the first word out, everything else will follow. It may not be the most elegant, but at least I'll have breached the point of no return.

While I admit this is selfish, one of the significant drivers for me to reconcile is the freedom I feel as a result. As soon I get those "I'm sorry" words out of my mouth, I can feel the burden lift. Yeah, I wish I hadn't screwed up to begin with, but I couldn't imagine letting my wrongs fester inside of me.

We watched Bourne Ultimatum this evening, and there was one scene in particular that really stood out. Jason Bourne (played by Matt Daemon) is talking with Nicky (played by Julia Stiles), and he's expressing to her how he's been trying to remember the names of all the people he has killed. If he can remember the names, he can know who to apologize to. He knows his past wrongs, and to be free of the resulting burden, he wants to reconcile and and explain himself like he did at the end of the second movie.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 10: Competition

My family can be competitive. I'm not always sure about how I feel about it. I like competition because it provides a measurable objective that I can contribute to. I like competition because it can get people to do their best. It can get people to engage. But competition can easily turn sour. As soon as competition becomes divisive or puts people down, then I think competition has gotten out of hand.

There isn't a lot that jumps to mind about competition specifically in Scripture. There's more about how a person, whether in competition or not, should live. That said, there must have been a competitive streak within some of the disciples. They started asking about who was the greatest among them? They wanted to know how the stood in comparison to the others? Where were they in the ladder? Jesus doesn't answer their question directly. He provides no rankings. He says though that the greatest among them is the servant (passage). Effectively, he says: "So you want to win? To win in the Kingdom is to get down and serve. It's to put others before yourself."

Given Jesus' definition of greatness, I have a hard time imagining him being domineering as we see among people today. He would probably have a parable or some insightful and/or cutting questions about the heart to ask like: "Would you rather win or ensure that everyone has a good time? Would you rather get a victory, or ensure that everyone feels encouraged and empowered? Do you genuinely applaud and praise your opponent when he or she does well? Do you let 'love your enemies' apply to competition?"

Optimizing for winning is quite easy. You get as many good people on you team and have the best one's play the most amount of time. Challenge and real success to me comes in taking a team, weak links and all, and working together in a way where everyone's strengths are utilized, and everyone feels encouraged to do their best.

I know there has been times for me where I have put competition above people. I fortunately have a sensitive wife who picks up on these things quicker than I do. She's helped me learn how I can do this. I'm getting better, and I hope that competition would never get in the way of loving people. Should they ever be at odds, I want love lo reign. Competition can take the back seat...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 9: What do with Jesus and the demons?

Why have I become so conditioned at overlooking Jesus' interaction with demons? I know it occurs frequently. Can I really ponder and study the Kingdom insight from Jesus and neglect his dealings with the demons? Spiritual warfare stuff makes me nervous as I usually see two extremes. For some, everything is spoke of in terms of battle with the enemy. Others, never speak or think about it. They would say that what the gospel writers were calling demons were really just mental diseases.

The problem with the first extreme is that it isn't comprehensive of Jesus' life. He wasn't just about driving out demons, and he didn't talk as though everything was a repercussion of something happening in the spiritual realm. But Jesus definitely did deal with demons. Mentally ill people, to my knowledge, don't shout out and say "What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come to torture us before the apointed time?" (Matthew 8:28-34). They certainly don't cause hundreds of pigs to drown from a a mountainside. And Jsesus did teach his followers to pray: "deliver us from the evil one" (Matthew 6:13). As a result, I don't see how the second extreme is valid either.

I have predominantly been around people and churches that don't pay too much attention to the spiritual domain, If I were Satan, I would be ok with this. Having people oblivious to me, enables me to go about my business without interference. I suspect that those of us who don't really see any sign of the demons or spiritual evil have probably spent too much time with fellow well-to-do middle class citizens. My very limited exposure to such evil has usually come when I get off the beaten track, hearing stories of those stricken to the street, deemed unsightly, or living in poverty abroad.

There is so much more to look at and answer concerning this subject. I first want to do more of a Biblical study of Satan and demons in the Old Testament. The biggest incidences coming to mind are: Adam and Eve, Job, and Saul. I also need to review Jesus again. I don't have internet to look these things up, so I'll plan on writing more about this in the future. In the meantime, I want God to make my heart appropriately aware to the spiritual evil in the world. I don't want it to be my sole focus or to be ignorant.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 8: Search Algorithms and Spiritual Growth (Part 2)

Yesterday, I explained two common search algorithms, depth-first search (DFS) and breadth-first search (BFS). I think we tend to take one of these approaches with tasks in our life. For example, I am definitely BFS when it comes to cleaning the house. My course of action can look like: start cleaning desk -> notice dirty dish on desk -> walk to kitchen -> put dirty dish in dishwasher -> notice other dishes in sink -> put other dishes in dishwasher -> notice dirty kitchen floor -> walk to vacuum storage closet -> notice suitcases are unorganized -> organize suitcases -> get out vacuum -> notice dirty carpet in living room -> vacuum living room -> vacuum kitchen -> put dishwasher away -> return to cleaning desk.

When something comes up in the process of dealing with one thing, I give focus to this new thing, and can get chained along. There are problems with this approach. Actually resolving the first thing I was working on isn’t guaranteed to happen, and at the very least, it will take awhile. In addition, if I get cut short, I can still have a lot left undone. If I’m supposed to have cleaned while Kara is away and she comes home early, the house can actually look in worse shape than it was originally. The idea of being cut short reminds me of Jesus’ parables about returning at an unknown hour (Matthew 26:36-51). Since we don’t know when he’s coming back, his prudent advice is to be ready for him anytime. Always have something to show for ourselves. If Kara gets home earlier, it looks a lot better for me to say “I’ve gotten the bathroom and kitchen done but still have the bedroom” than “I have none complete but am in progress with all three”.

I believe this BFS/chained-along feeling carries over to my life with God as well. Frequently, rather than really getting to the root of an issue, question, or subject I get caught up focusing on something else. It can feel like a lot of dabbling, but not much mastering. I know when I've mastered something when I'm able to talk about it with clarity. In a "mastered" state, I can articulate the questions I wrestled with, the process I went through, the outcome I arrived at, and why I arrived there.

I've done good in the past with asking to be given one thing at a time to focus on, but I have admittedly grown lax with this request. My focus has weakened. It's legitimate to ask whether this request to be thrown one thing to study at a time is valid. From an effectiveness standpoint, I think it is. I'm curious to know though how others deal with this. When I'm confronted with a plethora of things in my life to analyze and grow in, I try to take it all on at one time. What do you do? Do you DFS knocking one thing off at a time, or are you BFS like me trying to engage everywhere at once?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 7: Search Algorithms and Spiritual Growth (Part 1)

In computer science, one set of problems you study concern graphs or trees. These graphs or trees hold information, and there are multiple algorithms for searching for information within a graph/tree. Two common algorithms are:
  • Depth-first search - one starts at the root and explores as far as possible along each branch before backtracking.
  • Breadth-first search - begin at the root node and explore all the neighboring nodes. Then for each of those nearest nodes, explores their unexplored neighbor nodes, and so on, until finding the goal.
The image to the right is an example of a breadth-first search. It traverses the graph in this order: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h. A depth-first search would traverse the graph in this order: a, b, d, e, h, c, f, g.

So anyways, what does this have to do with spiritual growth? I see these search algorithms play out in my life, but it'll take some more time to flesh my thoughts out. Since Kara and I celebrated Valentine's day tonight, I haven't had as much time to think, but stay tuned for part 2!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 6: Hypocrites

I wrote on Friday, 2/8 about meeting a guy on the street name John. We met up this morning and talked for a couple hours before work, and he shared about his experience with Christians. His cousin is supposedly a "super Christian". He's apparently always doing good stuff like mission trips, giving money, volunteering, sending Bibles, etc. In one conversation, John's cousin shared about how he and his wife love to go to the movies, but then stay and go to 2 or 3 additional movies. John questioned his cousin on the integrity of his actions. "Isn't that stealing?" he would ask. His cousin would laugh it off, but as John pushed him on it, he got defensive. John shared a couple of other stories, but his experience with many Christians was the dreaded H-word: hypocrisy.

Searching for hypocrisy/hypocrites in the Bible reveals some interesting results. Jesus is by far the biggest user of the term. He saw it in the Pharisees, and he called them out multiple times. The woes given to the Pharisees are fair warning for all to avoid the trait.

Jesus' warnings against the yeast of the Pharisees, hypocrisy (Luke 12:1), is given for good reason. I don't want to enumerate all the consequences for hypocrisy, but I do want to bring attention to impact it has on others. In John's cousin's case, all his time doing "good" stuff is rendered useless before John because of inconsistent behavior in some relatively small things. This is an important reminder for any of us who would hope that our lives impact other people.

That isn't to say that one's credibility is dependent on the absence of hypocrisy. I have no doubt that there are areas within my life that I'm unconscious of that are hypocritical. The important thing is how I will respond when these things are brought to my attention, either by man or by God. Imagine how John's answer to my question of what his experience with Christians has been like if his cousin had thanked John for bringing the whole movie theatre thing to his attention and committed to change his ways? If we're aware of anything in our life that is inconsistent with Christ and his way, then I believe full bore effort needs to be made to change no matter how "minor" and "socially acceptable" behavior.

To make this more concrete, let's say I've grown up downloading music and videos since high school. A friend makes it aware that I'm actually consuming media that I didn't pay for. He says, "Isn't that stealing? Is that one of the 10 commandments?" If fleeing from hypocrisy is my goal, I must give up this behavior and delete/purchase the this media I've already downloaded.

I don't want to be hypocritical in my discussion of hypocrisy. I hope that this talk would be acted upon when the occasions come, and I hope as well that people in my life would have the courage to point out my inconsistencies. If you notice hypocrisy in me, please by all means, let me know!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 5: A Devoted Life

What does it mean for a life to be devoted to Christ? Many define a devoted life by "devotional" activities. But does it really matter how much one prays, fasts, journals/blogs, etc. if it bears no fruit in one's life? If I'm still cold to my wife, dishonest with peers, or selfish with my time, then my devotional activities don't mean much.

When I look at Christ, I see someone whose devotional life had real bearing on their life. Jesus is certainly a special case, but his 40 days of fasting were sustained by feeding on the Word of God. This is evidenced by his strategy for fending off Satan and his teaching in the synagogues directly after (Luke 4). From his times of prayer outpoured clarity on the apostles to call, power to heal, and commands and parables about the Kingdom life (Luke 6).

Every so often I think we need to ask ourselves if our devotional activities are bearing any fruit. Francis de Sales describes three stages of spiritual growth: a beginning awareness--grace; strength to do good works--charity; and the ability to do good frequently and promptly--devotion. He also says that a devoted life should grow our love for God and our love for others. I have strength to do good works, but there is still often an initial apprehension to do them frequently, devotion as he calls it. I think I'm afraid to loose control, especially of my time. Organizing my time gives a sense of security and stability. I would feel lost without that. One barometer then for me and the devotional life is the looseness with which I spend my time on others. How would you measure the effectiveness of your devotional life?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 4: Fuel for Praise

For Christmas, we commited to have Kara's incredibly delightful cousins, Kameron and Kelsi, over for a fun-filled day and night.  The afternoon was spent at the Pacific Science Center.  This was my first time there; I absolutely loved it.  Although it is geared for kids, I could happily spend a day there by myself, so I could really soak in everything.  I like to see everything, read everything, and observe everything, but that isn't conducive behavior when you have kids or a wife who has already been there a couple of times :)

There were so many things that awed me:
  • Seeing how small Earth is relative to Jupiter or the Sun.  They had a great vishal, showing the many hundreds of earths that fit in Jupiter, and in turn the many Jupiter's that fit in the sun.  And that's all within our tiny solar system!
  • T-Rex jaws that would absolutely crush me.
  • An immense collection of insects, revealing the seemless life that chugs away unnoticed by me.
  • DNA printouts.  It's absolutely astounding how much paper it takes to print DNA when each protein is represented by a single letter.  I saw one volume of many, and it was literally hundreds of pages of straight captial letters.  Each cell contains all that information.  Wow!
I'm sure I would bore you if I went into everything I saw that stood out.  When I see all this science, awe overtakes me.  Life is so much bigger than me.  The size and detail of it all gives me so much to marvel at God with.  It is fuel for praise.

What causes you to be speechless before God?  Is it being outdoors?  Is it reflecting on your life?  There is only one occassion listed in the Gospels that I can think of where Jesus gives praise to God as we commonly think of it:

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." (Luke 10:21)

This utterance from Jesus comes as his unpolished group of 72 followers come back and report about how their announcing and revealing of the Kingdom went among the neighboring towns and villages.  Jesus gets pumped by seeing the heirarchy of the Kingdom at work.  Ordinary and unleared peopled are experiencing the Kingdom and are being used by God to unfold it in the world.  These are the people without college degrees, positions of power, or significant financial means.  Jesus is praising God's work among the underdog.  Jesus is marveling at the way God balances the scales.  There is something inherently beautiful to Jesus about the unqualified receiving the keys to the Kingdom.  

I wonder how many of us share Jesus' sentiment?  As someone who is "wise and learned" by the world's standard, do I celebrate the revelations made to the "children" around me?  Will I accept that just maybe they have been shown more than I have been?  Will I continue with my upward mobility, or will I take a posture of humility, and let them minister to me and those close to me?  You see, Jesus sent out the 72 "to every town and place he was about to go" (Luke 10:1).  They were fulfilling a John the Baptist type role of preparing the way for the Master.  I don't know why God needs a human to prepare the way for him; I think it's just how chooses to work.  Maybe the same thing happens today.  Maybe I need the "children" to prepare the way of the Lord in my own life.  And maybe if I do, I, like Jesus, will "be full of joy through the Holy Spirit" and say "I praise you, Father..." 

Friday, February 8, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 3: Confession And Its Outcome

This morning while praying, I realized I hadn't conciously confessed anything to God in at least a week. Confession helps humilty be genuine for me. It's one thing to say "I'm a screw up" having a vague sense of past wrongs, and another to be able to point to occassions over the last few days where I have sought my own interests over those of God's or others.

Anyways, I reflected on how I've lived the last few days, and the main thing jumping out to me was how I had neglected spending concious time Downtown to be able to talk with people on my way in to work. I had been putting productivity at work before getting time with those on the street. I don't feel like I can say sorry to God if I'm not going to do my part in resolving my wrong. It's just like how you can't aplogize for hurting someone and then immediately keep doing the same hurtful behavior without attempting to try something different. When I'm at my best, confession binds me to corrective action. In this case, to confess required adjustedmy time usage. I resolved to spend a half hour on the way to work seeing who was on 3rd Avenue and talking with whoever seemed opened to it.

I came up from the Pioneer Square bus tunnel and there was one man sitting off to the side who caught my attention. I walked up and down the block and came back to this same man, greeted him, and got a nice greeting back. I got some hot chocolate poured, and I was quick to learn that the man was a fellow Canadian. It's great the way shared nationality in a different country creates connection. The man's name was John, and he was quick to share. He is a very bright and capable 45-50 year old man. If he was dressed in nice clothes like the business people that cruised past us, nothing would make you think differently with him. Within 15 minutes, John had to get going to an appointment, but I gave him my business card and asked him to call me so I could get his contact info. Sure enough, in the afternoon, John called and had lots to share about all the politcal hubub with Obamma and Clinton in town. John was appreciating the relationship that was developing, and he was up for meeting up to talk more in person next week.

It was good to be reminded of the practical value that can come from confession, both for my soul and for others...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 2: Leadership All Around

Leadership surrounded me today.  Here's the recap:
  • While at the gym in the morning, I was listening to the gospel according to Matthew (chapters 14-19), and many thing stood out to me about him as a leader:  

    • When he learns of John the Baptist's death, he attempts to withdraw to be by himself.  
    • When crowds still follow him, he turns the task of feeding the people over to his disciples.  When the disciples fail at the task, Jesus takes over and releases multiplication on the bread and fish.  
    • He calls the religous leaders of his day on their hypocricy and their hard hearts.  When one of the disciples brings it to Jesus' attention that the religious leaders were offended, Jesus says to "leave them alone; they are blind guides of the blind".  
    • When the disciples ask for an explanation of a parable, he asks, "Are you still so dull?"  Ouch!
    • He gets petitioned by a Canaanite woman (i.e. she wasn't a jew) for mercy for her daughter, and despite stating his mission of tending to the lost sheed of Israel, he complies because of her faith.  
    • He doesn't give a sign to the religious leaders who ask him.
    • He pings them for their understanding of who he is.
    • He explains what is going to happen to him.
    • He explains how one becomes great.
    • He teaches about handling conflict.
  • At work today we had a screw up where some people's features were automatically turned off without proper warning.  I watched deciveness about how to minimize the fallout and prevent it from happening again.  I watched how communication was made with those affected.
  • I've been reading about John Perkin's work in Mississippi in With Justice For All.  Community development work has no shortage of visioning, decision making, and guiding.  I'm sure I'll write more about this book soon.
  • We went to the Husky men's basketball game tonight.  We try to sit as close to the Husky bench as possible so we can best observe the coaches.  There is so much to notice.  There's the player substitutions, the timeouts, the coaches huddle before addressing the players, the clapping and butt-slaps of players for doing a good job, the yelling at players for screwing up.  If you watched the game tonight, you know it was a tough one, particularly in the second half.  We got down and couldn't get back.  I respected the leadership exhibited by the coaches though.  There was still a sense of dignity, a "we're going to loose, but let's finish the best we can" attitude.  Good plays and smart decisions were still commended.  How a leader conducts themself when loosing says a lot about them.  Amidst hundreds of coaching suggestions from the students around me, I was reminded as well of the way a leader gets the highs and the lows.  People love you when you lead them to prosperity, and they'll quickly get jumpy when things are rough.  A leader has to be able to shut out the neigh-sayers and quick-fix advice givers in those rough periods.  A good leader (and follower) must follow similar principles to those in stock trading.  You don't play the short game.  Things are to volatile.  You don't want too much invested in the short term.  Bad games happen.  A good leader, like a good stock trader, sees the big picture and looks long term. 
So leadership was all around today.  I'm thankful to notice it.  Leadership is one of the ways in which Christ shows up in my day-to-day.  Good leadership can usually be traced back to his way of life.  Poor leadership comes from not heeding his advice.  Either way, it still points back to him.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 1: Blogging as a Lenten Discipline

I haven't blogged in a long time, but it has come across my mind a lot lately to start doing it again. A lot processing occurs for me when I write something down or talk about it. The process either strengthens my thoughts or exposes areas of weakness, both of which are good and welcome. I also find that there is much from the day before that I miss if I don't consciously think about it and write it down.

Now, today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. One can read more about both of these on Wikipedia, but basically it's a time (40 days, not including Sundays) of preparation for Easter. How Lent is celebrated various significantly between Christian traditions. Many impose some sort of restraint in their life over Lent (e.g. no meat, no chocolate, etc.). When one feels the desire for the things he or she are forgoing, it's supposed to serve as a trigger towards focusing on Christ. Others conciously add something else in to their lives (e.g. reading, prayer, communion, etc). What's most important and beneficial is to cultivate receptivity and awareness to Christ in this time.

So, to jump start my blogging again, I'm committing to writing up a post each day over Lent. I don't have a specific theme that I'll be writing to. The charter isn't clear. I can forsee writing about things I'm reading (e.g. Bible or other), things I noticed/experienced during the day (e.g. working as a software engineer, being a husband, talking with people on the street), things I have questions about (e.g. money, leadership, church), or any intersection of the three.

Thanks for reading, please let me know if you have any questions, and feel free to leave any comments.